NC Festival is a Bear Lovers’ Paradise - Carolina Country

NC Festival is a Bear Lovers’ Paradise

Celebrate black bears and blackberries in Plymouth

By Heidi Jernigan Smith | Photos courtesy of the NC Black Bear Festival

NC Festival is a Bear Lovers’ Paradise

A little-known fact sparked an eastern North Carolina festival now five years running: The Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula has not only the world’s largest black bears, but also the greatest global density. Both the state and North American record holder is an 880-pound black bear taken in Vanceboro in 1998 by Coy Parton (Dolly’s cousin).

“In the past 40 years, North Carolina’s once declining black bear population has rebounded and increased tenfold,” Tom says.

Tom Harrison founded the NC Black Bear Festival in 2014 to celebrate the region’s black bears, once few and far between due to habitat loss.

“In the past 40 years, North Carolina’s once declining black bear population has rebounded and increased tenfold,” Tom says.

That’s largely due to a successful sanctuary project launched by the state’s Wildlife Resource Commission in 1971. The presence of black bears in Washington County is now so prolific that in 2004, the NC Department of Transportation constructed three black bear overpasses to reduce bear-vehicle collisions on Highway 64 between Roper and Creswell.

NC Black Bear Festival organizers have a lot to celebrate when the event returns to the Plymouth waterfront June 1–2, 2019. Twice the Washington County event has received best-in-state honors by the NC Association of Festivals and Events. The Southeast Festival & Events Association named it “Best Small Festival” in 2018. Attendance has quadrupled in four years, with last year’s attendees coming from 18 states and four countries. And the event’s footprint expanded last year with the addition of a Blackberry Extravaganza, paying homage to one of the black bear’s favorite local foods.

With black bears now occupying about 60 percent of the state’s total land area, the festival is a great venue to learn about the local bear population and the natural environment where they thrive. It’s also a wonderful time to get your feet wet, enjoy fresh local food, explore the area’s Civil War and maritime history, dig for fossils, and take a sunset river cruise.

Bear-themed fun

This year’s festival will feature over 30 educational and bear-themed activities. Early risers can participate in the festival’s 5K run or a group paddle on the Roanoke River. Those desiring a bit more horsepower can line up for the motorcycle poker run. Mid-morning, Festival Park officially opens with activities ranging from what’s touted as the world’s only mechanical black bear ride, a motorcycle stunt show, airboat rides, a black bear tent theater, a make-your-own bear activity, free children’s fishing event, lazy river tubing, a magic show and more. There will be numerous blackberry eating contests, and each food vendor is required to add a blackberry dish to their festival menu.

State biologists Colleen Olfenbuttel and Chris Turner will be featured presenters at Plymouth’s black bear museum, aptly named Bear-ology. For those who wish to explore species from around the world, a visit to the adjoining God’s Creation Wildlife Museum is a must. Workshops will be led by renowned wildlife photographers Mark Buckler and Neil Jernigan.

Afterwards, you’ll have the opportunity to take to the skies to see the expansive Roanoke River Delta by helicopter. The weekend highlight is always the Saturday fireworks show, which begins at 9 p.m.

The festival coincides with black bear breeding season, which runs May through July, peaking in June. Early registrants will have an opportunity starting May 1 to sign up for bear viewing tours May 31–June 2, 2019.

NC Black Bear Festival

June 1 and 2, 2019 | Plymouth

About the Author

Heidi Jernigan Smith is Manager of Marketing & Corporate Communications for Tideland Electric Cooperative in Pantego.

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